Houses exist to juice the economy and keep the elderly afloat on paper gains well into their retirement years.
You have repeatedly used the phrase “vampiric gerontocracy” in a number if your pieces and I’m sick of it. Many of my contemporaries lost their homes in the early eighties, and it took years to rebuild their lives. Many of us helped support our own parents and children simultaneously, and a good many more of us do not have pensions. I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my life, and am one of those people. My home and what investments I’ve managed to accrue are what I hope will allow me to look after myself when I am too old to work. You seem to be under the misapprehension that all Boomers are insanely wealthy. They aren’t. All levels of government have colluded in creating the housing mess, and stoking inter generational warfare is imo entirely unconstructive. Enough with your repetitive “vampiric gerontocracy” nonsense - this is one darling which you should have killed some time ago.
Boy oh boy Jen, that was a joyful read just before the Easter holidays. How about something about the cost of dying for Labour Day. and then the death of Santa Claus in December? It's a good thing you write well.
A good read, apart from the anti-boomer rage. There are a lot of boomers who don't own homes. A lot. The anti-boomer angle takes so much away from your piece, which is that governments don't want to solve the problem.
I love you for stuff like this, Jen. You are brutal and funny and bang on the money. I'm 71. My husband and I bought a home in Toronto in the late eighties. It tripled in value by the time we sold ten years ago and moved into a condo that has doubled again. The only way we could own a home today is by inheriting it.
The people who clean our building and provide security can't afford to live anywhere close. They have to commute forever on lousy transit from apartments in the outer boroughs. It's awful. And yet like you said, we don't want to see its (paper) value crash because if we outlive our savings we're counting on it to afford an apartment where we can pay a college educated former barista to change our Depends.
People like us voted Liberal and NDP. But damned if the left we knew hasn't abandoned the working class for Woke Twitterland, pushing its natural base to the right, then attacking it as racist for voting for the one party that doesn't insult it. The enemy of the poor isn't the rich, it's us comfortably housed, well-intentioned, left-leaning middle class.)
I fully expect that younger generations will soon find a way to relax the rules around assisted dying. "He's been a bit glum all week. Really, doctor, is this any way to live?"
Honestly, my generation lucked into the best time to be alive: We skipped all major wars, got off with a couple of short slumps, and will get to die before the planet incinerates. I feel for you guys. We didn't mean to screw you. But it sure turned out that way.
I share the concern with how ridiculous housing prices have gotten. It's hard to recruit people to work in the Lower Mainland of BC because of the cost of living. However, a few things to consider:
1) Price is a consequence of supply and demand. You can't just claim that housing prices are insane vs. other areas if people are continuing to pay the price. Is Vancouver as dynamic as Manhattan? No. Are people willing to pay the prices to live there? Yes. The price is just a signal indicating the relationship between supply and demand.
2) The demand side of price is affected by the affordability of the house. Crank up interest rates or tighten lending requirements, and you make it more expensive to finance a mortgage. I was just a kid during the 80s, but I remember how stressed out my parents were when they had to service a mortgage at double-digit rates. Lower prices don't necessarily make housing more accessible, unless you're going to pay in cash.
3) Take a look back over time at changes in property prices. A truly dramatic crash in prices is on the order of 30% - that's like the crash in Calgary in 1982. That's about as far as history tells you prices will unwind, short of a massive natural disaster or civilizational collapse. If you couldn't afford a house at 2010 prices, even a massive market crash isn't going to do much for you.
4) The proportion of Canadians who own their homes has steadily increased over time, including with the crazy spike in prices over the past couple of years. The fact that this number isn't falling suggests we're not quite at the catastrophic point this piece suggests. It also supports the idea that there's going to be little support for collapsing the real estate market. There aren't a lot of areas of Canadian public life where you find a supermajority like that on one side of an issue.
There is no easy fix here. The solution is building enough stuff to slow or stop the increase in prices. That's not going to change things overnight, though. Getting to this point took sustained screwing with zoning, the housing market, and the cost of real estate transactions. The supply of housing needs to at least match population growth, or else economics tells you prices will just keep climbing in perpetuity.
Nope. There is a lot of flailing here. Focus. Municipalities are the problem. It’s a supply issue called banana: build absolutely nothing anywhere’s anytime. City councils and their supporters the citizen groups block, delay, prevent and obstruct new housing. I get your frustration. What I don’t get is why we put up with it.
A few facts: Canada’s annual mortality rate is approximately 300,000. The birth rate is approximately 360,000. Immigration is between 400,000 and 500,000 people annually.
Housing starts are now between 240,000 and 260,000 per year.
Boomers are the ones in the mortality bracket - their homes go on the market at that time and their kids get to split the proceeds to buy their homes (which are likely to be multi-family rather than single).
Boomers are not having children nor are they demanding increased immigration.
You are caught in a supply shortage and your solution is simply to devalue the market thinking it will decrease demand.
Most cities have limited amounts of re-developable land and the cost of permits, construction and supporting infra-structure continue to inflate - you may be able to house more people with increased density but such housing is still expensive (affordable is brought about by subsidy only).
As boomers die off and as rezoning prohibits single family homes, densification with continue to increase - driven by population growth.
Dense pack is the order of the day for Canadian cities but don’t kid yourself that it will make living less expensive.
Lose your resentment towards boomers - they’re on their way out.
It’s the new arrivals that you’ll be competing with.
Blaming the baby boomers is somewhat disingenuous as they are not the ones putting the developmental regulations in place.
- That is the Municipalities, (zoning) Provinces, and the Federal Government.
- Environmental regulations also hamper the building of new homes and land use.
- Inflation and the cost of products to build homes.
- Investment Companies like Blackrock buying units for investment purposes due to low interest rates
- In larger centers like Vancouver and Toronto many illegal activities and money laundering have
also contributed to the rise of housing costs in these and other cities.
- Choice of where you want to live also comes into play.
Accurate! No one wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Erin O'Toole during the last election stated that immigration should be based on what the provinces wanted, not a federal quota. Unfortunately, it is buried in the archives and forgotten at this point.
Hi Jen - generally I agree with your articles but in this case you’ve chosen to “toss raw meat out to the angry crowd” for some reason - which is disappointing. Hopefully you’ll find your usual insightful observations in the next piece.
Perhaps the most brain dead column I’ve seen on The Line, but I’m sure the author feels better, at least I hope she does, since I see no other reason to write it. Yes, I understand the GenX’ers and the dispossessed millennials who didn’t get in when they could have want my house. What they don’t want is the 598 square foot two bedroom one bath house - yes house - in Edmonton that was the start of my home ownership journey. Or the 18% mortgage rate that went with it. Or the hacksaw I had to buy to get the toilet seat off and replaced before my wife would even think about using the bathroom. This. column is just a venomous rant. The shot at Vancouver seals the deal. Envy is not pretty. And by the way, I really have no dog in this hunt. My house is paid for, so it’s price is irrelevant as long as it tracks the market. When I age out and am back in the market I’ll use the proceeds of my house to buy it. Presumably once the dispossessed gain enough numbers they can vote in a suitable political class and implement their solutions - if they have any.
What a stinging article! Imagine my shock to learn that my contemporaries and I are part of this vampiric gerontology. I mean, really?
Of course I feel badly for my kids and their contemporaries as they try to buy their first homes. It’s almost impossible right now. But other generations have faced huge challenges as well, lest we forget.
Can’t wait for your follow-up article on the cost of health care to keep the vampiric gerontocracy alive and well as they feed off their offspring.
Maybe we should all just jump off a cliff when we hit age 75? Problem solved.
<rant> Believe it or not, all we Boomers were your age at one time. We couldn't afford those 2-storey brick houses on tree-lined streets in downtown neighbourhoods a 10 minute walk to the market, so we bought 1,200 sq.ft. frame bungalows in the suburbs and had to commute to work.
Now you're complaining because you have to spread further out, and you're threatening to take over our municipal councils so you can destroy our self-landscaped neighbourhoods. We didn't make our houses so valuable -- it's you and your desire to have them.
You want to live close to where you work, but you work in the downtown of large cities because we now have a "service economy". Grow up, stop complaining, and stop buying goods manufactured offshore.
BTW, you can solve the “vampiric gerontocracy” by putting us on icebergs when we hit a certain age. </rant>
Honesty. So rare. Thank you, Jen.
It doesn't HAVE to be this way, of course, but it would require the Young to show up and vote, and be as organized as the Old. Which does not seem to be in the offing.
Cynical much? Yup.
Oh, but spot on, as well.
As always, Jen, you write well and convincingly.
I have the (good / mis?) fortune to be in my early seventies. That means that I have seen at least one or two things; I even wrote a (highly dreadful) university paper on the topic of housing in about 1970. Among the things that I have seen and recall is that Trudeau 1 dealt with / allegedly tried to deal with the housing issue - there, see, I didn't call it a "problem."
Trudeau 1 didn't succeed, just as Trudeau 2 won't succeed. Now, having said that, one thing that Trudeau 1 (with those number, aren't you just expecting 3 to be on the horizon? Gawd!!!) did was to introduce MURBs - multiple unit residential buildings. Now, those weren't new types of housing but the tried and true townhouses, high rises, etc. What was new was the financing, which allowed fast write off for taxes for the owners. By definition MURBs were rental housing but they quickly moved from the rental market to being owner occupied. Ultimately, Trudeau 1 eliminated MURBs as a financing tool because it became too popular and the government saw too much tax revenue deferred.
The point is, as near as I can recall, that was the closest any government has come to finding a way to successfully create additional supply: they created the ability for the marketplace to finance additional supply.
I am not saying that we need to bring back the MURB rules but I am saying that the federal levers are very few. The MURB rules worked because they were entirely under federal control - i.e. the Income Tax Act. Pretty much all other claimed "solutions" require extensive provincial and/or municipal co-operation to change zoning, increase density, etc., etc., etc. In short, the status quo - i.e. the home owners' self interest - is highly likely to ensure that there are no such changes.
The best that I can suggest to those who want to buy a home is for all housing aspirants to clearly, emphatically and continuously tell their parents / grandparents / aunts / uncles / etc. that "they" (i.e. parents et al) are the reason that said aspirants cannot acquire a home because "they" prevent zoning changes, cause governments to require more and more in terms of building codes, etc.
So, the supply side is really where it must change but I am not hopeful. The federal government has very few powers to assist in the supply side and truly, with the bunch that we have now - and prospectively - I simply don't see the imagination to allow increased supply.
The demand side keeps going up. Natural growth of the population, immigration of 400,000 per year and the ongoing pressures of life (for example, divorce sees one housing unit become two housing units needed), etc. all keep demand increasing. Note that I have not discussed foreign ownership, vacant houses owned by "others," etc. simply because, while I do not deny that they have an effect, it is my opinion that the overall effect of those issues is entirely nominal and is used by politicians to deflect their own failings of policy and imagination.
So, what have I done? I helped one of my children with a down payment; I expect that when my other adult child is in a position to purchase a home I will get a similar request. Could I afford the first one? Yes, I was working and could manage that hit. Can I afford the second one? I simply don't know as I am now retired and I don't have the same capacity.
The point is, however, that my generation has benefited so we have to be part of the solution, even when it hurts.
I feel for the Millennial angst, but Jen only touched on another important point...all the capital trapped in housing does nothing to promote productivity growth which is the only source of real income growth. Think what could be accomplished if some of that money were invested in tech startups or plant and equipment.
The government will fight a housing crash because the illusion of housing wealth papers over the government's complete ineptitude at promoting productivity growth.